Navigating Parenting Differences with Humility & Kindness

We all form opinions and jump to conclusions before knowing the whole story.  Here are a few helpful things to consider when having a potentially difficult conversation.

We all do it; form an opinion about someone based on what we see or have heard and, oftentimes, we act on that opinion without knowing the full story.  It can be as seemingly innocuous as thinking badly about someone, or we take it a step further and enter into gossip, or even worse, cross the threshold into public, online shaming.  It happened recently with the story about the 4 year old boy falling into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, resulting in the death of the gorilla.  People who had no idea of the full story were crying foul, spouting hate and viciousness, some even saying the mother should be turned in for neglect or shot.

It happens with parenting philosophies as well.  Breastfeeding in public has lit up the Internet and there is plenty of ugliness going around.  Not long ago, Target instituted a policy for their employees in support of mothers who wanted to breastfeed in their stores.  The employees were told not to approach a mother who was breastfeeding and, if asked where a mother could nurse her baby, they were to direct her to the fitting rooms, not the bathrooms.  An image of the employee handbook was posted online and was applauded by moms “who are relieved that there's at least one place on this planet where they can feed their hungry baby without being harassed or shamed.”

Breastfeeding in public is just one in a long list of things parents are willing to war over.

When my daughter was a baby, I nursed her until she was 15 months old.  We live in rural New York and have a 45 minute drive to get groceries; therefore, I spent many hours during that time sitting in our car feeding my child.  The choice to breastfeed was important and since it was only for a season, I was fine with nursing her in the car.  I didn’t feel relegated to the car or like I needed to slink away and hide.  Honestly, nursing feels intimate and private and not something I want to share with the world. 

Breastfeeding in public is just one in a long list of things parents are willing to war over. And in the midst of all these parenting battles, so many questions circulate in my head.  Do we have to live so publicly and be so quick to shout our convictions from the rooftops, demanding to be heard and validated? Can’t we live with convictions and integrity without being unkind to those who have differing ideas? How can we engage in civil dialogue?

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Here are a few thoughts that might help to answer these questions.  And let me warn you, they are not easy.  They go against our natural emotional responses, but I think they offer more constructive and beneficial ways to engage people.

Be quick to listen and slow to speak

It’s natural to want to be heard and feel like we have value because of what we say.  However, if we strive to keep our mouths closed and truly hear someone’s story, we tell them that they have value and their opinion matters.  Ask lots of questions and seek to understand.  Be humble, put your need to be heard and to “be right” aside and, instead, seek to hear others out. Then we will open up the lines of communication and foster positive relationships.

Be slow to take offense

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It’s easy to feel evaluated and found lacking when someone speaks against our beliefs. I’m often guilty of this when someone makes a comment about my child’s behavior due to her status as an only child. I try very hard to break the stereotype in parenting an only child and so it’s easy to feel personally assaulted by those comments. The difficult thing again is to proceed in humility and not assume the worst about someone.   

Seek good judgment without shaming

Judgment has a negative connotation in our society, but according to Webster, judgment is “an opinion or decision that is based on careful thought…the ability to make good decisions about what should be done.”  Synonyms include common sense, wisdom, and discernment; all things that seem to be strangely lacking from our culture.  The term “judgmental” sounds even worse when you think about its synonyms: overly critical, condemning, disparaging, depreciating, and disapproving.  However, I believe we can be disapproving of something without being unkind or shaming.  According to counselor and author of Transforming Twisted Thinking, Jerry Price, we often use destructive shame which says, “I am bad, not that I did something bad, but that I am faulty and damaged goods.”  The comments for the trending stories online are full of destructive shame, lacking careful thought and are typically an emotional response.  Let’s be critical thinkers and evaluate an issue based on our beliefs, while not designating someone’s value based on their differing opinion.

When we make that initial judgment of a person, our next step ought to be one of self-examination.  Is that thought coming from a place of insecurity and the need to feel validated or is it a discerning thought that reinforces our strongly held belief which then requires wise action?  Parenting practices such as sleep training, breastfeeding, or attachment parenting aren’t moral issues that have a right and wrong answer.  They are decisions to be made by each family using attentive consideration to determine what is best for the good of their family. Let’s humbly have those sometimes awkward and potentially heated conversations about our convictions, but let’s also chose our words carefully and temper them with gentleness and kindness.

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